RA/GAs at UPenn demand a fairer contract
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Resident Advisors and Graduate Associates (RAGAs) are vital to the operation of the college house system at the University of Pennsylvania. RAGAs serve as mentors, advisors, and friends to residents, providing much-needed support and guidance during their transitions to college and throughout their Penn careers. Through the creation and execution of programming, the enforcement of university regulations and policies, and the performance of mental and emotional labor, RAGAs ensure the safety and comfort of the thousands of students who live on campus. In this time of crisis and uncertainty, physical distancing and social isolation, the RAGA role is more important than ever as students will face the many challenges that come with life during the COVID-19 pandemic, namely: loneliness, the need to find new and innovative ways to build community, and the very real and frightening possibility of the spread of the virus on our campus and in our college houses.
In light of these circumstances, it is imperative that RAGAs are able to perform our duties in an environment that ensures our health and safety. Therefore, it is with the utmost urgency that we call upon the administrators of College Houses and Academic Services, namely Deputy Provost Beth Winkelstein, Faculty Director Lisa Lewis, Director of First-Year Houses and Paraprofessional Staff Training Licinia “Lulu” Kaliher, and Director of Four-Year Houses and Residential Programs Ryan Keytack, to immediately release a full plan for the RAGA role in the coming school year, including duties and expectations for RAGAs and measures to ensure our health, safety, and wellness. Below, we share our concerns and needs for the proper execution of the RAGA position in the fast-approaching school year:
The RAGAs at Penn have the following concerns about their job during Fall 2020, and would like to make demands about the same:
Safety provisions for RAGAs
Concerns: For staff members who would be required to share amenities with residents, our main concern is ensuring safety or at minimum personal amenities (as they required that GAs that stayed through the summer had). For RAGAs with chronic medical conditions, this becomes especially imperative.
Needs: RAGAs would require personal protective equipment (PPE), i.e. surgical masks, gloves, and disinfectants, to be provided by CHAS. RAGAs would also like to be put in the bracket of “first-responders,” so that we are qualified for more frequent testing for COVID-19.
Updated protocol for risky situations like parties and medical emergencies
Concerns: RAGAs are required to intervene in risky situations in campus housing, including parties and medical emergencies that require them to be in close contact with several residents at a time, as well as with people from facilities. So far, we have not received any information on the updated protocols to deal with these situations. This is particularly concerning for those of us with chronic medical conditions. It is not enough for us to assume that students will not be gathering due to the Campus Compact, and there are no clear guidelines for enforcement of the same.
Needs: The RAGA contract should reflect updated responsibilities of and protocol for RAGAs in risky situations, which would allow them to stay away from close contact with residents.
Concerns: RAGAs living in shared living spaces will be sharing bathrooms (showers, sinks, and toilet stalls) with our residents. There has not been any clear communication about how shared bathrooms will be organized, other than the fact that each resident will be assigned to a shared bathroom with no more than five other residents. There is no further information on emergency situations of bathroom use, exclusive spaces for bathroom use by staff, or cleaning protocols of shared bathrooms.
Needs: Before RAGAs move into living spaces with shared bathrooms, clear outlines of shared bathroom space usage must be outlined and communicated to us. RAGAs also demand that we be provided exclusive access to bathrooms throughout the dorm, in addition to the bathrooms on our halls.
Concerns: RAGAs who live in freshman housing and other spaces with shared kitchens have not been updated about our access to kitchen spaces. Additionally, not all RAGAs in these spaces will be comfortable sharing kitchen space with several other staff members, as that poses a risk of cross contamination. With the current partial meal allowance (which is not meant to satisfy dietary needs), along with the risks of using shared kitchen spaces, RAGAs will be particularly food insecure.
Needs: RAGAs, especially those in shared living spaces, should be provided with full meal plans for this academic year, or a prorated stipend to cover the purchase of prepared food. In addition, the shared kitchens should be opened and managed by each house to allow those who would prefer to cook to do so.
Concerns: Laundry rooms are enclosed spaces, where spread of the virus is incredibly likely. RAGAs are concerned that we will be held responsible for administrative duties to schedule laundry room usage and to maintain social distancing in laundry rooms.
Needs: RAGAs need to be assured that spaces like this will be ventilated and properly sanitized regularly, and that the administrative duties associated with laundry room management will not fall on us.
Concerns: We are concerned that CHAS will attempt to remove us, again, from our positions when undergraduates move to a fully online system after Thanksgiving. As the College Houses act as permanent residences for Graduate Associates, both parties are subject to Pennsylvania Landlord-Tenant Acts. Therefore the tenants (GA’s) cannot be evicted unless they fail to pay rent or breach the lease contract in another manner. If a GA fulfills their portion of the contract, CHAS has no legal right to evict them from their permanent residence until the contract has come to its conclusion, after a full year. Additionally, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf has currently extended the moratorium on evictions until August 31st.
Needs: RAGAs ask for CHAS to commit to providing our housing until the end of the school year, and for the updated contract to be honored by CHAS. If the current moratorium on evictions is either extended or reinstated, CHAS must legally honor it.
Concerns: The contract was changed without explanation or consultation with RAGA staff. Changing the move-in date by five days resulted in some people having to pay for interim housing and changes in travel. Additionally, for this academic year, the responsibilities of the RAGA community have increased substantially, along with the risk to our health due to multiple student contacts that occur within the course of our duties. This is outside the scope of the original contract and is not a reflection of a normal year within CHAS.
Needs: RAGAs who had to pay for housing or travel costs as a result of this change should be reimbursed. To accomodate for the unique situation the academic year 2020-2021 poses, RAGAs should receive hazard pay. This rate can be determined by the typical payments given out during other Penn Residential Programs, where RA’s receive both free housing and compensation. We would eventually like to see payment become part of the contract for RAGAs in normal years.
Enforcement of the Campus Compact
Concerns: The Campus Compact outlines expectations for safe social distancing for all of the students returning to Penn for the 2020-2021 academic year. It is unclear, though, what the consequences for violation of said expectations are, and how the Compact will be enforced. This vagueness leads to the potential that students will refuse to follow the rules, which will, in turn, put the health of RAGAs, other house staff, and other students at risk. In a normal year, we deal with parties and underage drinking, which are also against the rules but are nonetheless expected. Residents breaking the Campus Compact, while it carries more moral than legal responsibility, is not so different from them breaking the rules about having parties in the dorms, but poses a far greater risk to us.
Needs: RAGAs should not be held accountable for enforcing the Campus Compact. In case we are held accountable to enforce the Compact, we need to both be put in a bracket of students who will be tested for COVID-19 frequently, and receive appropriate hazard pay.
We trust that our very real concerns will be taken seriously and addressed, and that RAGAs will not be retaliated against in any way for attempting to bring about conditions under which we can properly perform our roles in the college houses while attending to our own safety, health, and wellbeing.
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